The Next Big Idea

Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is a painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” – Mandy Hale 

Hi Everyone, 
  
When we started Tahzoo, our tag line was Tahzoo “Driven by big ideas”. It was a way for us to communicate our ambition and the impact we expected to have on behalf of our clients. Aspirational for sure and it’s remained a central theme for Tahzoo ever since. Over the last week, I’ve been clearing my calendar so I can have time to think about the future of our company. When I started Tahzoo in 2010 my central thesis was that personalized experiences would replace the “one size fits all” digital experience. From a marketing perspective, it wasn’t that companies couldn’t figure out who you were or the experience that would be most pleasing to you, the gating factor was that they couldn’t get the right unit of content in front of you quickly enough to make a difference. Turns out that the trend I spotted was and is still true today. While SDL provides Tahzoo a platform to tackle some of these issues, there are still technology, strategy and process gaps that we need to overcome to fulfill our mission. 
  
My brain has been ruminating on this topic and how we need to position Tahzoo for the next decade of work. I thought I’d share a few questions with you that I’ve been exploring and invite you to engage with me if you have an interest in contributing. 
  
Mathematics continues to evolve at an accelerating pace, our ability to write equations that describe our world and our experience is developing rapidly. How should we be applying advancements in mathematics to our business? If I wanted to write an equation that would describe the relative likelihood that I’d visit a Starbucks at 4:30 tomorrow afternoon, what would that look like and what mathematical domains would be necessary to build a reliable model? 
  
What is the relationship between brand affinity and proximity? For example, you might walk two blocks at lunch for your favorite sandwich, but 6 blocks would be too far. Is there a level of discounting or incentivization that would impact your behavior to walk those additional four blocks? There is a comedian who does a routine on Amazon Prime becoming Prime Now, two-hour delivery is no longer sufficient, it needs to be Prime NOW. It’s funny, but there is some truth in our growing expectation that companies anticipate our needs. How do we help our clients write equations that anticipate what someone will want now? 
  
Given the advancements in mathematics, how are we going to use machine learning and artificial intelligence to improve the customer experience? The wonderful thing about digital experiences is that it’s given us sample sizes that are statistically valid, there are millions and millions of digital interactions to measure. When we move to algorithmically based personalization models from statistically-based models how will that impact personalization? What level of uplift will we get from a marketing and customer service perspective? 
  
What new technologies does Tahzoo need to master in order to lead the market in these categories? How will our engineering rigor need to change when the building of the enterprise marketing platform is only the first step in the experiment? What skill sets do we need? How should we be organized? 
  
We are still in need of a grand unified theory of content. We have good tools for searchability (thank you Google) and findability which is a byproduct of standardizing UX, but that’s not sufficient. In spite of all the improvements, consumers are still left with the task of finding and navigating content. We still aren’t able to describe the content in terms that allow computers and AI to understand the content well enough that we can effectively build algorithms for personalization. We’ve experimented with using the discipline of semiotics to codify content, certainly, DITA, XML, S1000D, and mapping ontologies are all helpful, but we need to bring all of this together into a unified framework for describing the content. I don’t have this all figured out, but I sense that there is a path that will combine all of these standards into a game-changing solution for Tahzoo. 
  
This leads me to the next set of questions that I am focused on, which involve complexity theory. A complex system is a type of system that is composed of many diverse parts that are highly interconnected and capable of adaptation. So, if you think about how a brand interacts with its customers on a global scale you have a complex system. When you think about Tahzoo as a company with many different disciplines all working towards a common goal, you have a complex system. How do we help our clients understand the complexity of their customer engagement? How would we visualize that? How would we understand the interactions well enough to make recommendations that positively impact business outcomes? Being a complex system in and of itself, how should Tahzoo be organized to support our clients? How do we make Tahzoo a learning system and culture?  
  
I recently connected with Kriell Benzi who is creating art by visualizing complex systems and data sets. You can see some of his work here. He is speaking at the Santa Fe Institute this week, unfortunately, I won’t get to see him this trip. I’ve been looking for ways to model complexity for our clients and his artwork might be an interesting approach. The reason I mention this is for those of you who are interested in complexity theory, the Santa Fe Institute is a great resource. One of the most important questions for Tahzoo in the next decade, is how do we build teams that are comprised of diverse skill sets that effectively collaborate to serve our clients? 
  
AI will be a couple of orders of magnitude more impactful than the advent of the Internet. Imagine how much the world has changed because of the Internet, now multiply the amount of change in the last 25 years by 100, that is what AI is going to bring to our world. We won’t experience a linear progression of change, there will be quantum leaps in technology and understanding. The advancements in science, knowledge, and technology will be astounding beyond belief. This will create cultural and economic disruption on a scale not seen before in human history. To put this in perspective, it took the Catholic church about 200 years to come to terms with Galileo’s notion that the earth revolves around the sun. It takes time for us humans to accept change, especially when it challenges long-standing beliefs. We won’t have the luxury of time to reconcile the change or ease into an “understanding”. There are countless examples of advancements in science or knowledge that are initially rejected by the orthodoxy only to become accepted with the passage of time. 
  
Beliefs are our brain’s way of making sense of and navigating our complex world. They are mental representations of the ways our brain expects things in our environment to behave, and how things should be related to each other—the patterns our brain expects the world to conform to. Beliefs are templates for efficient learning and are often essential for survival. What happens when long-standing belief systems are eliminated or proven wrong or different, virtually overnight? We won’t have 200 years to come to terms with the change in knowledge or perspective. How would we need to teach differently if accepted truths and norms are regularly in jeopardy? What long-standing principles are likely to be challenged in the next decade? 
  
For example, if capitalism is based on a risk-reward relationship, what happens when the risk is virtually eliminated by computing power? That’s not to say that randomness goes away, just that the calculation of risk will be almost perfect. How do you invest your money in a world where the rate of return is already a certainty? What does that mean for capitalism and will we need to invent a new economic model? I can tell you that all the people who owned big castles in Europe during the middle ages thought they would be the dominant economic model for the foreseeable future, now they are places to visit on vacations. 
  
Or look at healthcare, what happens when life expectancy skyrockets because we apply virtually unlimited computing power monitoring your health? What would that mean for our economy if that average life expectancy doubles in the next 20 years? What does that mean for managing resources and population? If you think that’s not a possibility, start reading and talking to scientists who are at the forefront of this next revolution in healthcare. What happens when we begin to use our awesome technology to genetically reengineer the human body? 
  
All of us can see how social media is affecting our democracy, do the basic concepts of freedom of speech apply to machines and computers too? It won’t be too long before computers generate more content than human beings. What laws and rules do we need in place to govern that scenario? How should we think about government, the rule of law and self? There is a great quote by the famous astronomer Carl Sagan written in 1995 “Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking. I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time—when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness”. Eerily familiar quote given the political climate today. That can’t be the end state of our world, so what happens next? 
  
We are seeing the beginning of cultural change at an unprecedented scale. How should Tahzoo position itself to be a force for good in the world? I say all the time “Tahzoo exists to make millions of people a little bit happier every day”. We’ve got the ambition and company of smart and happy people that are and will continue to make a difference. I am working on these questions and I invite your input and perspective. The work we do is important, and we need to make sure that our thesis for the next decade is a guiding light for our company and our clients.  
  
I am certainly not done thinking about what comes next and by no means am I finished with my question or journey. I am focused on considering and contemplating what comes next so we can anchor ourselves and Tahzoo to the prospect of creating a better future. While at times I am daunted by what comes next, I am also an optimist and I have an unshakeable vision for a greater and more fulfilling world. It’s up to each of us to make a difference, Tahzoo is one of the places I hope to be a force for a better world. 
 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

The Tahzoo Difference in Data Services

“Genius might be the ability to say a profound thing in a simple way.” 
-Charles Bukowski 

You can barely go a day in the news cycle and not hear a story about Data. For the past 5 or 6 years, we have been pursuing the integration of data into our service offering. Not just analytics or better A/B testing but understanding how we could build a data infrastructure closely tied to our CMS practice that would enhance and improve personalization. Over the years we’ve made a lot of progress on leading-edge techniques and ideas for how those two domains should come together.  
 
In some ways, we’ve been ahead of the market and many of our customers, and in some cases, our employees weren’t always understanding the vision that I had around the integration of Data and CMS publishing technologies. This stems largely from the fact that I have always viewed content as another data set to be masters. The reason I wrote a few weeks ago about linguistic AI as it’s a profound step in improving the quality of the content and therefore the consumer experience.  
 
Now our major customers are asking us for help in defining our Data Hub solution and how it should be integrated into the enterprise marketing platform. We have a fantastic opportunity to lead the market in this space. I asked Mike Fillion to work with the team and put together Tahzoo’s unique value proposition. We are not just another data provider or system integrator, we have a very unique and specialized offering, you should all be excited.    
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 

Data Science

“Our ability to do great things with data will make a real difference in every aspect of our lives.” – Jennifer Pahlka 

Traditionally, advertising and marketing were based on the hope of a random chance. You’d see an ad at just the right time before you were going to buy or, as you walk down an aisle in a store, you’d see a display that would catch your attention. Brands were built through the strategy of frequency and reach. With enough positive impressions, a brand could create an idea in your mind, and, if done correctly, it would tap into the zeitgeist and become part of the culture. This has been the dominant advertising paradigm for the last 50 years. 

With the advent of TV and radio, advertisers were in the position to deliver their messaging at scale. For the first time ever, there was the possibility to overcome randomness with enough advertising and money. In 2014, global advertising spend exceeded $575 Billion and is growing at a healthy 8% per year. In the US for example, advertisers spend $565 dollars per person, per year on paid media. 
 
Unfortunately, most business models expand to a point of absurdity and then collapse. I’m not saying that the ad business is going to collapse… at least not yet, but we’ve reached a point where the number of touchpoints, channels, and outlets has become too expensive to dominate. The result is a chaotic mess of ads seeking to capture your attention. The model of frequency and reach is now reserved for only the wealthiest of brands. 
 
This is where disruption begins. Because the expense is too high, innovation is required to achieve similar outcomes. Tahzoo is a byproduct of this next wave of disruption. We are helping our clients transition into a new way of doing business. I talk and write often about personalized and relevant content – well, this is a way for marketers to break through the clutter and engage audiences. A new paradigm for the 21st Century that ironically has its roots in a more traditional business model of knowing your customers and building personal relationships. No longer do they have to deliver a one size fits all, lowest-common-denominator message to the broadest audience. They can now begin to transform the digital customer experience into something personal and relevant. 

Seeing this change in the marketplace is what compelled me to start Tahzoo. I was excited because I could see the change coming and I knew if we built a company with the right expertise, we’d be relied on by our clients to help them change. This is really what digital transformation is all about and what Tahzoo is all about. 
 
The way that Tahzoo uses data to understand customers and their expectations of the customer experience is unique. We see people in the context of the type and style of content they prefer to consume. We use data from many different sources, web analytics, social data, and behavioral data to understand the format and then the semiotics of the content required to influence behavior or provide a more pleasing experience. With our ability to implement sophisticated content management systems, we can use insight and data to deliver a differentiated customer experience. This is markedly different than the traditional model of understanding people by age or income or other demographic metrics. With the rise of the web, agencies moved to personas rather than demographic models, however, they are utilized to inform the creative experience and not the personal experience. We use data to understand people or discreet audiences, in an effort to provide a more pleasing customer experience. We are actively seeking to understand the models of engagement. Without data science, we cannot deliver personalized or relevant content. We are more or less guessing. 
 
With all the talk of “Big Data,” the real trick is to make the data actionable. If we combine our expertise in building the integrated marketing platform with great data science, we create the possibility of truly connected experiences. We need to continue to innovate in this area and focus on bringing the art of the possible together for our clients. The future of Tahzoo depends on it. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
Brad 
 

Customers, Content, and Context

“All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.” – Michael John Bobak 

Customers, Content and Context 

 
If I knew everything you ever posted… if I knew every piece of content you ever consumed… would I know you? 
 
Humans are fascinating creatures; we have belief systems and values that manifest differently in various contexts. When presented with similar problems, how you react and respond on behalf of your family might be very different than with a co-worker. Take that a step further – the context around you plays a role as well, for example; are you alone? Is it late at night? Are you not feeling well? Is this interaction being recorded? 
 
Predicting human behavior or the response to a variety of situations is still exceedingly difficult because of the number of variables that need to be considered. Humans can do this math exceedingly well – I am sure you remember the Sherlock Holmes stories, where he notices the smallest details to help solve crimes. You’ll observe that someone is in a bad mood before you make an ask or start a difficult conversation, and based upon that, you might decide to strike up the conversation at a later date or time. We evaluate and attenuate our interactions with people as a natural part of our humanity.  
 
In the world of digital marketing, we’d like to replicate human-to-human interaction. As I’ve always said, “we want to deliver a Nordstrom-like customer experience, online”. Marketers and Computer Scientists have been overwhelmed by this complexity of managing all the possible variables and contexts. In addition to solving for the behavioral ambiguities, we also must address the format of the device, the context, and the immediacy around the task that needs to be accomplished or the information requested. Taking all this into account, it is no wonder that most companies chose to ignore the complexity of delivering personalized experiences. 
 
Almost all the digital/CX agencies are still pitching A/B Multivariate testing, which is best described as a better strategy for guessing. Not only does it not inform personalization efforts, but it also feeds the tyranny of the majority, because 51% percent of the traffic responded favorably to the blue button, the other 49% are force-fed the blue button, despite a different expectation or preference or additional colors. 
 
At Tahzoo, we’ve figured out how to solve this problem. The work that we’ve performed over the last few years has provided us tools to better understand customers, context, and content – and then leverage Algorithmic-based solutions and Artificial Intelligence to achieve better results. Over the course of the next few months, we will be aggressively investing in our data science capability to bring the Tahzoo approach to the market. We do a lot of things well at Tahzoo, however, this might be a point of leverage that sets us apart from everyone else in the world. Not only can we build sophisticated systems, but we can also provide the data services and methodologies to take advantage of the software we implement.  
 
I am working on a whitepaper that I will publish in the next month on the Tahzoo position on how to best leverage Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Algorithmic-based personalization technologies. The preview is that it takes what we do well; you have to know your customer, your content, and have the context to provide a Nordstrom-like personalized experience in a digital world. 
 
Let’s go be great! 
 
Brad 

What’s In A Fitbit

Since receiving a Fitbit Charge 2 for my birthday, I’ve been wearing it every day for a month now, and I’m fascinated with what I’ve learned. The Charge Two tracks heart rate, sleep patterns, the number of steps taken, estimates the number of calories burned each day, and so much more. The device even reminds me to take time to breathe and focus on my mental health. Turns out, I am in pretty good shape – my Cardio Fitness Score is ‘Good’ given a score of 39, and when I make it to 39.6 I’ll graduate to ‘Very Good’. All in all, I make an effort to maintain my physical fitness by going to the gym 4 to 5 times a week, running and lifting weights.

However, now that I have all this data about my health, I feel compelled to make good use of it. For example, if I lose 14.2 lbs. and increase my cardio by 20%, I would achieve a score of ‘Excellent’ for Cardio fitness. I am currently training for the Rock ‘n’ Roll half marathon in March, so there is a good chance that I’ll meet my goals. The point, however, is that data and feedback loops give you the information you need to make better decisions and the necessary improvement toward your goals.

Over the last month, I’ve been working with the finance and project leadership teams to create a standard package of reports to share out to the entire company. The reporting package (not unlike a Fitbit) will provide each of you a monthly summary of Utilization, Billability, and Chargeability as well as summarizing by team and division the operating and performance metrics. We will be extending this to an account base view as well, so we can see revenue, profitability, and the overall employee satisfaction of the Tahzoo delivery team.

With this new feedback loop will come individual goals and opportunities for improvement. We are fortunate to have tremendous market opportunities… but we need to be better stewards of our business and ensure that we are profitable and growing at the same time. For some of you this will be an adjustment, as I will be expecting everyone to make their targets, and more importantly, to show improvement in efficiency over time. Traditionally we haven’t run Tahzoo by the numbers, but this is the road ahead for us. If we want to be a world-class Customer Experience Management agency, we’ll have to operate in a world-class manner.

I am excited about this new level of awareness – not only on a personal level but also for our business. I’ve written extensively about how we need to bring more rigor and quantitative thinking into our business; this reporting is the beginning of building this operational strength into the company. Over the next three weeks we will be rolling out the expectations and reporting package within the US business, and to the rest of the company in the following month. We have created a framework for each of you to meet with your manager to align on goals and expectations. As we roll this out, I’ll be looking for feedback from you through the Voice of the Culture survey.

Looking forward to starting 2017 with clear goals and expectations for all of us.

Thanks,
Brad

The Myth of A/B testing

“The journey is the reward” – Peter M. Senge 

The Myth of A/B Testing- Let us now praise famous data scientists 


Most websites are terrible at selling. As both a customer and as a consultant, I know it. You know it, too. The problem is two-fold. First, insulated by the law of large numbers, online marketers have gotten away with being terrible salespeople because of a failed thinking that if they churn through enough people, eventually some portion of them (usually a minute portion) will convert to customers. It’s a volume business. It’s also a totally expensive, inefficient, and ineffective way to market. 

 
The shotgun approach flowed out of the ancient art of direct mail and telemarketing in which scads of letters and carefully scripted phone calls would blanket the countryside in hopes of converting a few recipients into paying customers. In that world, a conversion rate of one percent—just one customer for every 100 letters or calls—would be thought a resounding success. Do you know any floor salesperson who would consider themselves successful if they converted just one of every 100 customers who came in their door? Exactly. Neither do I. 

 
Nonetheless, the direct marketing industry has thrived. To them, the concept of sophisticated data science was encapsulated in a technique known as A/B testing. A certain portion of the letters or call scripts were ever-so-slightly modified. They might have used different headlines, or different inducements on the envelopes to get you to open them, or the offer might have been tweaked. The marketers then waited to see which letters or calls performed better. In this world, a difference of a few hundredths of a percent was read as if oracles from heaven that one way of saying things was better at selling the product than the other. The phrasing that performed better in this simple, side-by-side comparison became the standard against which future words were tested. 
In the advertising world, this reality is reflected in the traditional frequency and reach data models that define the success of marketing campaigns by how many and how often people experience an advertisement, not how many of them convert to customers. These models were born in an era where the majority of people had fewer than ten channels on their televisions and a handful of brands from which to choose. Firms focused on brand marketing simply because channels and technology did not provide bandwidth for anything else. 

 
Accordingly, companies spend increasing sums on traditional marketing initiatives, only to experience diminishing returns on investment—they spent more and got less. Traditional campaigns struggled to connect with consumers, and, when they succeeded, very little real information was communicated.  Though the least-informed customer can pinpoint the problem, the self-appointed experts cannot articulate a cause. Let me tell you right now, the era of A/B testing was built on a myth. It is an incredibly unwieldy way to market. As I said above: it’s expensive, inefficient, and ineffective. I believe it’s ineffective because it treats audiences as monolithic. There’s no subtlety in the messaging, no ability to adapt to who the prospect is or what they are saying with unspoken language. On a sales floor or at a high-intensity sales pitch, the salesperson always reads the audience and adapts on the fly to the vibe of the customer. It is how selling gets done. I’ve done it a million times. (I’m doing it right now.) 

 
At Tahzoo, we believe that the era of A/B testing is over and that true data science and data-driven marketing is not only possible but critical to business success in today’s global marketplace. The maturation of both big data and content management technologies have reached such a level of sophistication that a new era of online selling is now entirely within reach. You’re witnessing our philosophy—the “Why” of Tahzoo—in action as we press our clients to get better at data science, to improve their technology infrastructures to prepare for personalized messaging in which the data we know about the prospect influences the content they see. You’re also seeing through acquisitions of cool technology such as Adnovate. 

 
So, forget A/B testing. The past is dead. The future is within reach. Our mission at Tahzoo is nothing short of changing the world of marketing through data and technology. Those disciplines have rung the death knell on that old era and marketers and marketing firms need to acknowledge they are no longer the sole gatekeepers of purchase-critical information. To effectively communicate—not merely to present—relevant and personalized content to drive consumer decision-making means that the floodgate to personalized content is opened, and firms must embrace it and invite consumers into a real and lasting conversation. When this happens—when marketing is truly aligned with customer needs—only then will customers be both engaged and educated. And that’s when great things can happen. 

The Tahzoo Customer Experience

In my meeting with our client, I discussed this scenario as an example of how we have to understand consumers in context. Consumers have different patterns of behavior depending on if they are buying for their son or daughter. Hypothetically the customer, (let’s call him Jason) buys lots of products for this retailer both in-store and online. His son is relatively easy to buy for, minimal returns or exchanges. He’s on three sports teams and is always in need of clothing or equipment. His daughter is another story, she is 14 and very challenging to buy for. As a teenage girl, she is very particular about style and fit. He told me she returns or exchanges most of what he buys for her. These patterns of behavior would be recognized and addressed if he had a regular salesperson he worked within a store. They would make appropriate recommendations and would guide Jason through the purchase and potentially the return or exchange process. 

We know if he is browsing women’s jacket or men’s sneakers, these should inform the experience and the offers that are delivered. We have great data science skills at Tahzoo that can be leveraged to understand customers in context. When we think about helping our clients drive personalization it’s important to focus them on understanding their customers first rather than experimenting with A/B and multi-variant testing tools. If the goal is personalized experiences that are contextually relevant, we need to model the human to human interaction. Understanding someone first and providing appropriate responses second. Because of the availability of testing tools and how digital marketers are focused on creativity and content, it’s easy to understand why A/B testing is a dominant paradigm. However, at Tahzoo, we recognize that personalization begins with data and how we understand customers and patterns of behavior in context. 

This line of reasoning helped differentiate Tahzoo versus the creative agencies who are focused on aesthetics and design. I look forward to sharing more about this opportunity as it develops. 

Let’s go be great!

Brad